Sunday 13 January 2019

These Shining Lives

Set in 1920s Illinois, Catherine Donohue is excited to get a job at Radium Dial. The task is simple enough - she and her colleagues are to paint watch dials using a radium compound which glows in the dark. When their hands begin to glow too and their health deteriorates, they articulate their concerns but are subsequently ignored, shamed and eventually dismissed. Taking the company to court, Catherine’s empowering and heart-breaking fight for her rights offers us a potent reminder of the need to protect workers from exploitation.

Photographs: Sean Owen of Reflective Arts
Our audiences were spellbound by this powerful and troubling story. Here are some of their comments.

"Rarely do I see a play which is intense, gentle, frightening and moving in equal measure! Rarely do I leave the theatre wanting to share that experience with the world. But such was my experience tonight at The Sewell Barn Theatre in Norwich. These are real people - these were real happenings! This was These Shining Lives - a superb production with a talented young cast playing out this tragic story of the cynicism and ruthlessness of big business and the common man. Only 3 productions to go! Here is theatre at its very best! I urge you to see it!" Robin S

"I found space on the whiteboard to add just one word: SUPERB. The indictment of a pernicious, profit-driven corporation at the expense of young women's lives. Evil becomes transparent when it is shown in the personal rather than statistical or academic. Marvellous story-telling in an engrossing play. Glad I caught the penultimate performance. Lots to take away." Jack S

"'These Shining Lives' is a testament to the power of theatre. An extraordinary story about ordinary people and the far too everyday injustice that they suffered, brought to life with sensitivity and aplomb by a universally excellent cast. Director Jessica Hutchings creates an exquisitely detailed and nuanced production, with set, music, costume and lighting further expressing the themes of the play with care and flair. I laughed, I cried, I cheered. An utterly incandescent production that shines as a legacy to the Radium Girls." Vincent G

"Thoroughly enjoyed the production today, a well paced and beautifully designed piece." Richard H

"There was some great chemistry between the four radium girls as well as some moving moments. The play also highlights the issue of worker exploitation, which is still happening today, and this certainly got us talking during the interval. Well done to all! I also loved the set, the music and the very appropriate lighting. Really excellent effects, especially the green and reds towards the end. And the chaps created some great characters too with some nimble changes." Barnaby M

"A great setting, atmosphere and professional performance. ‘These Shining Lives’ was the best performance I have ever been to. Well done cast & crew. I look forward to my next visit to Sewell Barn Theatre." Dearbhla Q

"That show was unbelievable, you were all great! I sat in the car and cried for five minutes before I could even drive home!!"

"It’s well worth the trip. A beautifully staged play performed by a believable group of actors who tell the tragic, almost unbelievable story of the radium ladies. An absorbing and moving evening with some excellent performances and complimentary but striking technical effects. Congratulations to Jess on her directorial debut and to the cast and crew on a great evening of theatre!" Matt S

"What an amazing play. Shell Moore, you and your fellow cast members put on a stunning and emotional performance. If anyone is looking for something to do please go and and see this." Kate G

"A really stunning play. A brilliant story performed by a truly convincing and talented cast. I was totally absorbed in the story. Strong performances from the amazing cast. Well done everyone." Henry H

"Your show last night was splendid. Captivating and engaging. Very well done. It was a splendid presentation. Tremendous! " Jonathan R

"Congratulations to the cast and crew of These Shining Lives at the Sewell Barn Theatre for doing such a brilliant job in telling the true stories of the women who worked and died at the Radium Dial Company in Chicago in the 1920s. Jess Hutchings, in her directorial debut at the Barn, has created a tender, powerful production which conveys the humanity of the individuals who struggle against the corporate behemoth and society at large. The irony is clear - for the women employed by Radium Dial, it is their first taste of freedom and they love the support and friendship it brings. Tragically, the effects of their employment go way beyond a sense of female empowerment. The production moves seamlessly between naturalistic scenes - there's a real chemistry between Michelle Moore as Catherine Donahue and Ben Turner as her adoring husband - and the stylised scenes - the courtroom scenes swiftly condense important information for the audience and effectively move the plot forward. The camaraderie between the four women is a joy to watch and the two men are extremely effective in moving between roles with excellent attention to detail. Lighting, sound, projection and set enhance the universality of the production beautifully as does the fantastic painted floor with its watch, constellations and compass. Those women lived life fully, died far too young but their lives continue to shine for us, nearly 100 years on. Go and be amazed." Clare W [Joint Artistic Director]

"I was there last night with my theatre group - loved it!" Elliot K

"FANTASTIC 5* performance. Well done, Sewell Barn Theatre. Congratulations to all the cast and team for bringing this story to the stage with dramatic effect." Su H

"As the audience left the theatre, we overheard many comments like these: "Compulsive viewing", "Brilliant", and our favourite: "They deserved a standing ovation, and the only reason I didn't stand up was because the seats are steeply raked and I didn't want to risk falling onto the stage!".

"These Shining Lives opened at the Sewell Barn Theatre to huge praise last night, and rightly so. Director Jessica Hutchings has created the world of the Radium Girls, and their tragic story ("but this is not a tragedy") with a deft touch and beautiful attention to detail. Her excellent cast work together as a superb team, presenting utterly believable and sympathetic characters; the visual effects are stunning. Moreover, the story is one that deeply deserves your attention. Highly recommended." Cassie T [Joint Artistic Director]